How to get time for yourself: Set your kids up for independent play

Create new exciting activities your kids will love and read a novel for a change!

Remember how you used to love to read for pleasure?  You’d spend hours in a well-lit room with a book and at the end of it, you didn’t know a new recipe, have another way to spice things up in the bedroom, or learn how to install blinds.  Instead, you had memories of far away landscapes and intimate relationships with imaginary characters

Ahh, the joy of fiction.

But now, you have kids.  You don’t have time to read for pleasure– right?  WRONG!!!  In fact, it’s more important than EVER that you do WHATEVER brings you joy and pleasure.

You are your child’s most important influence and, along with any other caregivers, the people she’s most likely to emulate.  Don’t you want your child to ENJOY life?!

Of course you do, so please, take extra time today and every day to take good care of yourself and enjoy your own process of living and growing.

Your homework for this week:  Take good of yourself, give yourself things you enjoy, and become your kids’ example of how to enjoy your life.

For extra credit, practice taking care of yourself FIRST and inviting your spouse (or other adults) and child to be patient and wait for your help.  I know, crazy, huh?

So, how are you going to go about eking out the, quiet alone time you crave the most?  Here’s the secret: Create activities for your kids ahead of time!

Wait a minute, you’re thinking, didn’t you JUST say I should be taking care of myself first?

Well, yes, yes I did.

But please let me share what I’ve learned from being responsible for 12–24 three, four and five year olds for 40 hours a week (of awake time, mind you) over three school years and from being a nanny for several years.

When the room and activities are well prepared, well organized, and easy to access, kids are more self-sufficient and focused– and I get more time to take care of what’s on my plate, or just take a break and make myself some tea.

So, when I can think ahead about what kids might need to keep themselves busy learning for half an hour or more, I get whole chunks of time when everybody in the  classroom or house is quietly learning, playing, taking care of the environment, or producing new work.

This all really meets my needs for peace, learning, and freedom to do my own thing.

You might be wondering, what could possibly keep my little one engaged for half an hour of independent play?  Well, here’s a list of some engaging activities you might offer based on ages. These activities will benefit your child just as much at home as they would in a classroom setting, as long as you provide the kind of quiet, calm environment that’s most conducive to learning.

One year old —Large Motor Activity:  Putting the ball down the chute—First find a large cardboard tube.  You can use a wrapping paper tube, but bigger would be better.  Prop the tube up so that one end is about eye level on your child.  Leave the other end in an open area.  Find several balls that fit easily through the tube.  Show your one year old how to put the ball in one end and watch it come out the other end.  They’ll be delighted and want to repeat the experience again and again.  Now’s your chance to get back to that novel.

Two year old—Small Motor Activity: Putting things in and taking things out– you can use a box, a bag, or anything with a hole.  Kids this age are fascinated with putting things into other things and taking things out of hidden locations.

Three year old—Practical Life Activity: Pouring– three year olds are often determined to do the things adults can do.  Pouring is an especially challenging and fun activity.  Start with something easy, like beans that are easy to pick up.  Watch to be sure no one’s eating beans.  When your child can consistently pour without spilling, graduate to rice, and finally to thick and then thin liquids.  Coloring the liquid can re–invigorate interest well into age 4 or 5.

Four year old—Sorting Activity: Determining differences and similarities is the basis for all science.  Give your little one a head start by encouraging sorting activities.  Try to find items with distinct differences in either shape or color, and graduate to more subtle differences.  Provide a bowl for each group of items (if color sorting, finding a bowl the same color seems to help).  Sorting a bag of mixed beans by type of bean can take an hour– and it’s ever so satisfying!

Five year old —Scavenger Hunt Activity:  Following a list of instructions is wonderful skill to begin to develop with five year olds.  Make a list of clues or instructions.  For pre-readers use picture clues and/or read them aloud.  See how well you can hone in on your child’s abilities and help them if they get frustrated or lost.  At the end, be sure that the last clue leads your child to something she really enjoys- otherwise scavenger hunts are no fun.

Six year old—Hospitality Activity:  Making a tray with drinks or snacks or both for a guest or family. This one does require supervision especially for the first few times.  But after a while, when their skills and your confidence reach a certain level, children delight in doing these preparations themselves. I have even seen children in this age group be able to make and serve tea with hot water!  Provide a pitcher, cups, beverage, small bowls, and several snack choices.  Invite your child to ask you or guest their preferences.  Pour liquids on a low surface like a chair for ease.  Place items on a tray and serve.  Provide a towel for spills.

Seven year old—Geography Activity: Laminate a U.S .or world map, and get some stickers.  Create a list of the locations of recent vacations, relatives, locations from stories, or major cities—ask your child to place a sticker at each location.

There is no substitute for your time and attention. And—your child also can benefit from learning to play independently. Plus, you need a break. With the activities above, you can meet all those needs.

I’d love to hear how these, or your own ideas work. Please share your thoughts in the box below.

Thanks for being here!  Hugs, Shelly


My kids are pretty good about independent play. Sometimes though they really want me to play with them and I feel awful when I can't because I'm working or something. I know my "job" as a parent is not primarily to be a playmate but I always feel guilty when I have to tell them no. It breaks my heart.


I never thought about it :)
But is a good thing!

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Set your kids up for independent play is a very interesting idea !


  1. […] So, what do we do when we’re tuckered out and our kids are raring to go?  Well, I like to set them up with a self-directed activity and then sit nearby and read a book or rest while they are engaged in playing and learning at the same time.  Here’s a post I wrote a while back about some things kids can do mostly on their own. […]

  2. […] are a few keys to encouraging this kind of independent play in infants (and toddlers for that matter) Here’s a quick check […]